MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Vadim Perelman

Vadim Perelman had the sort of feature film debut most filmmakers dream about but rarely are able to realize. An acclaimed director of commercials, he optioned the novel House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III, adapted it for the screen with Shawn Lawrence Otto and co-produced the film with Michael London.

The tale of a young woman evicted from her house and her subsequent encounter with its new owners – immigrants from Iran – received critical kudos and respectable commercial returns. He clearly established himself as a talent worth watching and chief among his promoters was Steven Spielberg. Perelman was put to work adapting the Stephen King novel Talisman for DreamWorks and some feared he would descend into the industry’s commercial abyss.

That was five years and several projects ago. Now he’s resurfaced with The Life Before Her Eyes, a story one might ascribe to an episode of The Twilight Zone that like the bygone anthology has serious things to say about life, family and social issues told within a phantasmagoric frame.

“It’s ironic but I optioned the book it’s based upon at virtually the same time as Sand and Fog,” the filmmaker says with an implied chuckle. “They share certain things – a similarity in sensibility and a parallel plot thread that allows you to go back and forth between the two storylines. That’s something I find very appealing.”

The two strains both involve the character Diana. As a high school student portrayed byEvan Rachel Wood she’s experiencing the usual teenage angst when she’s thrust into a Columbine-style massacre by a fellow student and finds herself and her best friend facing him down the barrel of an assault weapon.

The other thread begins 15 years later with Diana (Uma Thurman) married with a young daughter and living in the same small Connecticut town. The dilemmas of her adult life collide with the echoes of the past when her school sends an invitation for a memorial remembering the tragic incident.

“The author, Laura Kasischke, is a poet who’s also written several novels,” he notes. “What struck me about the book was its really vivid imagery. The movie is kind of amazingly faithful. Obviously the rhythms are different. That’s just going to happen when you’re working in a different medium. Movies allow for a more relentless way of telling a story.”

The biggest change is that the key to the story’s mystery occurs at the outset of the novel. Perelman couldn’t see a way of telling the story unless he held the reveal until the conclusion. In opting for a mystery construct clues had to be introduced to what would ultimately transpire.

But the filmmaker says the puzzle aspects of the material while necessary were not his primary focus. He was considerably more focused on dealing with what he references as “the ultimate story of survivor guilt.” In his view it’s a lamentation; how an unforeseen and extraordinary act informs a life and (without being too direct) conspires to create regrets for things not done.”

“It’s an affirmation of life,” Perelman insists. “There are always going to be disappointments, even tragedies but somehow we push on. That’s the kind of story that I relate to.”

The filmmaker isn’t blind to the fact that those stories are more difficult to get made. He considers himself lucky to have another career that’s allowed him not to have to make a feature to pay the bills.

“I was really moved by the documentary My Architect and this crazy life that Louis Kahnhad. He was someone that by the standards of his discipline was involved with very few buildings. But what he devoted himself to was extraordinary. For me it all crystallized when I.M. Pei basically said he hoped to one day to be able to do something as good as Khan.”

Perelman believes his next film will be an adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand‘s epic philosophical novel that centers on a female railroad executive confronting a world that’s lost its balance. He’s also been in discussions with a Russian producer (Perelman was born in the Ukraine and his family moved to Canada when he was a teenager) about a film on Babi Yar (located close to his boyhood home), the largest single massacre of the Holocaust during the Second World War.

April 19, 2008

– by Leonard Klady

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon